I think it is a pretty unanimous decision that Telltale Games have brought some amazing games to us in the last two years. Even if you don’t like that slower style of gaming, you have to appreciate that these guys know how to write a story. They act like masterful puppeteers, manipulating our choices and emotions, in order to force us into uncomfortable choices. We both love and hate them; as much as we appreciate the amazing talents that force us into these dark places, how are we supposed to choose between two of our favourite characters.
The first time we really had one of these major choices was Carley and Doug. After a rollercoaster first episode, it was down to us to choose which one of the group we would save and take with us to the next level. That put us in a horrible situation. We essentially had to abandon one of our friends and choose which member of the group we preferred or thought would be more helpful to the group. It would suck a lot if you were left to be mauled by zombies, simply because the other person in danger across the room was slightly better at hunting or mending wounds. Yes, this is the kind of situation that Telltale Games like to put us in and we both hate them and love them for it.
But, as we dive into the second season of the Walking Dead Game, I have been looking back at the previous episodes and I have come to realise just how poorly executed that first choice was. I don’t mean to insult the script at all, because it was a really good introduction to the grim world of the Walking Dead. But that final choice was very unevenly balanced. We had to choose between two characters. One of them we had come to know quite well and the other we didn’t really know at all. I personally think that most people (the statistics I gathered on the first playthrough back up my suspicions), chose Carley for several different reasons, while Doug was probably just chosen by people, who did not want to do the obvious thing.
Why would you choose Carley? Well, for the most part, we spend more time with the character. She was the one who saved us at first and convinced the rest of the group not to kill Duck. We also undertake a mission with her and there is an extensive selection of dialogue to go through with her character, which builds up this banter between the two characters. The beginnings of a romance begin to pop up. Yes, I honestly believe that most players chose Carley simply because she was a girl and they wanted to see a romance between the two, especially male gamers. There are a few more reasons too. Personally, I chose her, because she seemed the most capable character with a gun. She was the best shot in the entire group and when you can shoot better than the local Redneck, you must be a pretty handy person to keep around.
I am not saying that Doug isn’t a good character to keep on. I have seen a few people choose Doug on Let’s Play videos, and my little brother chose him on a second playthrough, in order to see how the story differed. He is actually a pretty good character. He is clever and on Episode Two, he fortifies your camp with an electric fence. He turns out to be a fairly useful character. However, his technological skills don’t really come into play, other than background dressing. This electric fence is never really used. Also, this entire skillset seems like an add-on by the writers, just to give those who didn’t use Carley something to focus on. There is a sense that even the writers don’t know what to do with Doug. In many ways, his entire existence is to give Carley her own origin story: it was hinted that they were beginning to fall in love themselves.
The story is also so much better if Carley is included too. I know I shouldn’t be applauding something as clichéd as a love story, but it does make the adventure more three-dimensional. Episode Three features Carley heavily, as we go through light-hearted banter with her character, dancing around the idea of a first kiss, and then she is brutally killed off, in an unexpected and heart-breaking way. I have seen the same storyline with Doug and it is nowhere near as exciting. He is a trusted friend, but we already have that relationship between Lee and Kenny, Lee and Mark. Doug is a pairing we already have. Also, no one accuses him of stealing supplies, like they do with Carley; there is no sense of your own group turning in on itself. He doesn’t get shot at; he takes a bullet. Heroic and a good end to the character, but we can all safely agree that Carley’s death was so much more dramatic and emotional. It added to the overall story, while Doug felt like just another bump in the road.
Of course, the first episode had so much exposition to get through, I am not surprised the choice between Doug and Carley was so poor. The choice at the end of ‘All That Remains’ suffered slightly too, because there was, again, no time to truly explore the characters whose lives were on the table. Telltale Games have already admitted it is one of the few regrets of the series.